「I Need You」
There’s plenty to talk about with the first episode (and that’s all I’m covering in this post) of Devilman: Crybaby, believe me. But the situation here is weird enough that the accessory stuff does demand a bit of discussion. In the first place it’s fitting that this episode hit on the same day Amazon decided to end their “Strike” channel – for although Devilman is a Netflix production, both mega-corporations are hugely important both to anime’s present and future. While the double paywall of Amazon Strike was always a terrible idea and its failure probably inevitable, any serious anime fan should hope this move doesn’t signal that Amazon is getting out of the anime production business. Any look at 2017 reveals that it would have been a much poorer anime year without the series they bankrolled.
As for Devilman, Netflix – for a change – released it in the United States on the same day that it premiered in Japan. This is good – perhaps an acknowledgement of their biggest mistake in anime distribution (though they’re not abandoning the notion of releasing series in America three months late). But it kind of sucks for me as a blogger, because (and ReLIFE was really the only other show where it came up) it places me in a conundrum about how to cover Devilman: Crybaby. I’m not a huge fan of binge releases generally, and it’s not like I have time to binge watch this show, never mind bingeblog it. I suppose I’ll watch it as fast as time and mood permits – and ask your indulgence to follow along, if you so desire (and please – avoid spoilers in the comments section).
That’s a long preamble, especially with a series as notable as Devilman: Crybaby. Any time you get a Yuasa Masaaki-directed TV anime you’ve got an event, and when you pair that with the fact that it’s based on a manga by the legendary Nagai Go the hype factor is off the charts. Yuasa-sensei has been extremely busy of late through his new studio, Science Saru, and he seems like a natural fit to partner with Netflix on a series pitched to an international audience. Is he a natural fit with Nagai-sensei? That, perhaps, is a more difficult question – and one I’m not prepared to answer based on one episode.
Nagai is not to everyone’s tastes, that’s for sure – his stuff is wildly misogynistic and often shockingly violent (this premiere is both). To be honest Yuasa isn’t always to my tastes either, though I freely acknowledge that he’s a genius – sometimes his surrealistic St. Vitus’ Dance can overwhelm the material. I don’t think that’s a risk with Devilman, which (like everything Nagai writes) is way larger than life – these two idiosyncratic sensibilities actually seem to mesh together pretty well. And the premiere is fantastically produced, a genuine work of art. I’m just not sure yet if it works as a story (though I’m also not sure how much that matters).
I don’t know a whole lot about the Devilman franchise, which has been several manga and was a TV anime way back in the 70’s, and was also a live-action movie. This “Crybaby” update centers around two teenagers, the timid Akira (Uchiyama Kouki) and the batshit crazy Ryou (Murase Ayumu), who’ve been friends since they were small boys. Ryou is, somehow, a “professor in America”, while Akira attends high school with track star and idol Miko (Koshimizu Ami), and Miki (Han Megumi), who acts as his protector.
One day Ryou shows up at their school (nearby it, to be more precise) and whisks Akira away – ostensibly to help him prove that devils exist, he being of the opinion that devils are possessing people left and right across the world and it’s being covered up by the government. What follows is one of the more disgusting scenes in anime for a while, the “sabbath” party where a bunch of sybarites get high on ‘Devidevi” and engage in a bacchanal of sex acts before Ryou goes crazy with a broken bottle and starts stabbing everyone. Why? Why, because in order for this to be a real devil-summoning there needs to be blood, and what Ryou wants is for Akira to be possessed by a devil. And not just any devil, but Amon – the strongest of the lot. With friends like that…
There’s not a lot of explanation here, but that’s fine – that’s Nagai and Yuasa at work, really. As a sensory experience Devilman: Crybaby is certainly powerful, and it’s clear that this is as far from standard-issue modern anime as you get. I’m not convinced there’s a point to it beyond that, but maybe there doesn’t have to be – I guess we’ll find out. The character stuff isn’t bad – it’s kind of interesting to see Uchiyama and Murase cast as they were, because it would have been much easier for their roles to be reversed – but it kind of works the way it is, somehow. Devilman: Crybaby is a virtuosic, graphic and unsettling head trip – there’s a ton of brilliance on display here, but that was almost a given. Whether it has the chops to hold together as a story is something I’ll discover over the next nine episodes, however long that takes…